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Mental Illness

Mr. Brake: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what work is being undertaken by his Department to assess the additional training and other costs if, as a result of the introduction of community treatment orders proposed in the consultation paper "Reform of the Mental Health Act 1983", the police are increasingly engaged in conveying people to hospital. [100720]

Mr. Charles Clarke: The Government's proposals for the review of the Mental Health Act 1983 were published for consultation in a Green Paper on 16 November. The proposals do not include any additional statutory responsibility for the police to convey people to hospital. However, we shall consider carefully any evidence the police service offers about the implications for them of any aspect of the proposals.

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Fuel Duty

Mr. Nigel Jones: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the effect of the fuel duty escalator on the budgets of (a) the police, (b) the fire and rescue service and (c) the ambulance service. [100062]

Mr. Charles Clarke: Budgets for police forces and fire brigades are set locally by their respective police and fire authorities. These budgets reflect local decisions on the authorities' priorities and expenditure needs. It is not possible to discern whether or to what extent fuel price changes have been a factor in these decisions, but we have no evidence to suggest that they have been a consideration of any significance.

The ambulance service is the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health. However, I understand that the increased costs in fuel duty for the ambulance service since 1996-97 are estimated at £3.73 million. This amounts to less than 0.075 per cent. of hospital and community health services spending over the two years since 1997.

Pilot Election Schemes

Mr. Alexander: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what plans he has to ensure that local authorities are able successfully to run pilot election schemes, as set out in the Representation of the People Bill, by March 2000. [100658]

Mr. Mike O'Brien: We hope that it will be possible for local authorities to run the first pilot schemes at the local elections in May 2000, though this will depend on when the Bill receives Royal Assent.

The Home Office has issued a circular to all local authorities explaining how to apply to run a pilot scheme and has produced guidance on how to undertake an evaluation.

Firearms Surrender Compensation

Mr. Chope: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department (1) for what reason the claim by Mr. R. Knappe of Ferndown, Dorset, for firearms surrender compensation in respect of firearms surrendered over two years ago has not yet been paid; [99455]

Mr. Charles Clarke: The Home Office Firearms Compensation Section (FCS) received 1,428 compensation claims from the Dorset Police area, of which five were ineligible under the terms of the compensation schemes. As at 22 November, 1,403 claims had been completed and 20 remain outstanding, of which 18 are those where payment offers have been made to the claimants in question and are awaiting acceptance.

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As at 22 November, a total of 994 claims remain outstanding, of which 795 are those where payment offers have been made to the claimants in question and are awaiting acceptance. It is not possible to predict exactly when all claims will be completed as this will depend on a number of factors outside our control, including, for example, the receipt of suitable evidence from claimants as to the value of their surrendered property, the outcome of an independent valuation where this is necessary, and claimants acceptance of the payment offers that have been or will be made to them.

The compensation claim made by Mr. Knappe of Ferndown, Dorset was received in the FCS on 26 August 1997. Payment of the Option A and B elements of the claim was made on 22 January 1998 and the case is recorded as having been completed at this point. The claim will be re-examined by the FCS in order to process the outstanding Option C element of the claim.

It is not possible to say how many claims may have been closed in error. They will come to light only when a claimant inquires about progress on a claim which is recorded as completed. Once identified, any such cases are dealt with promptly.

Serious Assault

Mr. Webb: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what guidance he gives to magistrates on the criteria for releasing persons on bail charged with a serious assault rather than remanding them in custody; and if he has any plans to review this guidance. [100347]

Mr. Charles Clarke [holding answer 29 November 1999]: Within the statutory framework laid down by Parliament, in the Bail Act 1976, the decision to grant bail is a matter of independent judicial discretion. For this reason, the Government do not issue guidance to magistrates. However, magistrates are trained to adopt a structured approach to decision making, taking into account a range of factors, including the nature and seriousness of the offence, the possible sentence and whether the defendant is likely to surrender to bail or commit offences while on bail.

Reserve Budget (Police)

Charlotte Atkins: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department (1) what recent advice the Audit Commission has given to police authorities on the appropriate proportion of their budget to be held in reserve; [100669]

Mr. Charles Clarke: An Audit Commission report published in July 1999 reported that the average police fund balance in England and Wales (including earmarked and general reserves) at 31 March 1998 was £7.6 million, which represents 6.2 per cent. of average net operating expenditure. However, the level of reserves varies greatly between authorities.

The Audit Commission also reported that the level of general reserves--that is reserves other than earmarked reserves--is often a better indicator of the financial health of an authority. I attach information published by the

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Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA), showing that at 31 March 1998 police authorities in England and Wales had general reserves totalling £181 million. This represents about 2.6 per cent. of net expenditure.

The Audit Commission noted that general reserves, or balances, ranging from 2 per cent. to 5 per cent. of net operating expenditure are typically seen as reasonable by auditors. CIPFA has issued advice to police authorities recommending that general reserves or balances should be within that range, depending on local circumstances. According to CIPFA figures, 12 police authorities had general reserves below 2 per cent. of net expenditure as at 31 March 1998.

Reserves as at 31 March 1998

Net expenditure £000Reserves £000Percentages
Avon and Somerset152,6732,5391.7
City of London57,893--0.0
Devon and Cornwall155,4356,0643.9
Greater Manchester353,3198,5522.4
Metropolitan Police1,676,61726,4951.6
North Wales70,9202,0362.9
North Yorkshire71,8402,8734.0
South Wales159,4113,6002.3
South Yorkshire166,0276,1233.7
Thames Valley210,3335,1302.4
West Mercia107,7882,8802.7
West Midlands360,1295,0101.4
West Yorkshire281,7453,8811.4
England and Wales6,870,093181,0822.6

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